Notre Dame controls line of scrimmage in rout of USC
Benjamin Padanilam | Sunday, October 22, 2017
No. 13 Notre Dame took a 28-0 lead into halftime.
How did it manage that lead? Holding No. 11 USC to -4 yards on the ground while picking up 190 yards of its own played a big part.
Or in layman’s terms: The Irish (6-1) controlled the line of scrimmage.
“I knew they were very physical up front, especially their offensive line,” Trojans head coach Clay Helton said. “This was the most experienced offensive line that we faced. … They got us today. They did a terrific job. Credit to them and their staff, their players. They played a heck of a game.
“ … They won the battle in the trenches tonight.”
On the offensive side, the Irish found success on the ground from start to finish, securing 377 yards on 47 carries. Captain and junior running back Josh Adams led the way with 191 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns — including an 84-yard scamper for his seventh run of the season of at least 59 yards — as he took advantage of a Trojans defensive line softened by injuries.
“That 84-yard run was pretty — it was awesome,” Irish senior center Sam Mustipher said. “Right up the middle, that’s really how you take it to an opponent. It was a statement run by Josh, [and] statement blocks were made on that play on the field.”
“Josh isn’t going to do the talking for himself, but Josh Adams is one of the best — if not the best — running back in the country, and he’s the engine that’s been making our team go,” Irish captain and graduate student offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey said. “There’s no doubt about it that he should be talked about for the best player in the country.”
Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush also found success with his legs, scrambling for 106 yards and two touchdowns of his own with his 14 carries. Early on, however, he took several deep shots down the field with his arm, throwing four of his first five passes at least 20 yards down the field. After the game, Wimbush said those shots helped opened up the running lanes for Adams and himself, which the offensive line sealed off to truly set them loose.
“Up front, they were so physical and dominant,” he said of the USC defense. “But I think throwing the ball down the field kind of backed them off a little bit, took a couple of guys out of the box.
“ … [The offensive line did] what they always do well: Being physical, using their size, and their dominance to move guys up front, they’ve been effective doing that all year. So why change what you’re doing and you’re being successful with it? So they’ve done a great job all year.”
On the defensive side, the Irish held the Trojans (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) to just 76 yards on 31 carries. Junior running back Ronald Jones II, who entered the game averaging just under 107 yards per game, finished with 32 yards on 12 carries. The Irish defensive line also put redshirt-sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold and the USC offense under pressure throughout the night, finishing with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
“We just got into some good leverage situations in third down where you can’t make them all. We just got them into so many third down situations where they had to be almost flawless,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “ … We were able to mix things up enough with some pressures and some drop-eights and some different looks that they were going to have to play so well because we got on to them so quickly with that 28-0 that again it made for such a difficult climb for them.”
And the defensive line found plenty of success in those “good leverage situations,” which Irish sophomore defensive lineman Daelin Hayes credited to the unit’s mentality as much as it’s performance and depth.
“Physicality is as much a physical act as it is a mentality as well,” Hayes said. “I think being able to come out with that mentality to dominate, to keep your foot on these guys’ throats, to keep pounding them, I think that was huge for us, that mentality. Just continuing to finish our opponents and breaking our opponents.
“ … You guys see our depth, it’s awesome. We’re electric off the edge and our guys inside are electric.”
Notre Dame came into the game knowing it would need to set the tone with its physicality, and Kelly said his team answered the challenged he presented to them prior to the game.
“I challenged our football team,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, we’re going to stick with our process. Our preparation has been great. But this game will be won by who’s more physical.’ I think when you run for 370-something yards and you hold them to 70, I think we know who the more physical football team was.
“Again, it was a challenge that our players needed to win this game by being more physical, and they were more physical today.”